Books: Can disciplined lunacy give you the edge?

Be crazy and differentiate yourself, says this author, but his scatter-gun blast of case studies leaves Henry Engelhardt wanting less.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I like to buy business books, some of which I actually read. I might have bought Oren Harari's Break from the Pack, because I'm intrigued by stories about businesses that do things differently. I'm quite sure I would have started the book but I'm equally certain that I wouldn't have finished it.

I'm reminded of that old saying: 'The cobbler's son is the worst shod.' Harari's book is about breaking out from the pack; differentiation; being wild and crazy! I just wish Harari had read his own book before he wrote it, so to speak.

Harari tells us to look into the distance and aim for where the market is going, and to be willing to take a risk. He tells us to be provocative - with a fun-loving tone. All good advice. But then I have to wonder: why is his book so ordinary? Why am I not jumping up and down screaming to everyone I meet that this is a business book that really breaks the mould?

I happily admit that there are a lot of good messages in this book, but it's a hard read, because Harari makes a point followed by a wave of selective examples to support it. In the chapter entitled 'Curious, cool and crazy: building a culture of disciplined lunacy', he gives examples from a dozen companies and quotes seven different business leaders in just 18 pages.

This formula gets a bit tedious. There's nothing crazy or wild about his style and there's nothing gripping about the delivery. There are, however, lots of examples, but we don't really need all of them. Sometimes, a bit more focus on a single example could flesh out the point with more impact.

My other problem with the book is that it tries to formularise business success. In the prologue, Harari promises: 'This book helps you guide your organisation to break away from the pack. I offer you a winning blueprint for the race that your competitors will find puzzling or crazy. If you take this book's injunctions seriously and have the courage to act on them, you will be able to help your organisation achieve genuine market leadership and sustained success.'

Unfortunately, I don't think very many people can read a book and get those things. There's too much randomness in business to make a success by recipe. I have seen bad businesses find enormous success and good businesses fail.

If you can get through the book, there are a lot of good points, including: why profit is the ultimate measure of success; why some companies are better off sticking to their knitting rather than extending their product line; and why intangibles are more important than tangibles. I especially enjoyed the chapter on M&A. I think some people will be able to improve their businesses by taking some of his lessons to heart.

What's missing, however, is the personality gained by honing and developing a single example. Personally, I didn't care for his Gatling-gun approach to examples. Perhaps each chapter could take a single, different company and see how it follows Harari's rules. The few pages about Jamba Juice, for example, helped bring that part of the story to life. It's the plethora of examples Harari uses to illustrate his points that actually serves to put a distance between the reader and the very point being explained. I went back to the index and counted 135 different companies cited as examples in a book of 255 pages, some of them used more than once.

If you want to read one book that might rock your world and change the way you run your business/department, then you're far better off reading Maverick by Ricardo Semler. It really opens up the mind.

I think I could sum Harari's thoughts up in a single sentence: good ideas well implemented increase the chances of success. The rest is icing on the cake.

Break from the Pack: How to compete in a copycat economy; Oren Harari; FT Prentice Hall £19.99


Teach Yourself Intellectual Property; Miles Rees, Lawrence Smith-Higgins; Teach Yourself £9.99

The rigid format makes this an effective reference book rather than a fun read. Extensive case studies lighten the dense text, which doesn't lend itself to those exploring the subject for the first time - strange for a teach-yourself guide. A thorough text that covers international, as well as domestic, aspects of IP - BEST OF ITS KIND

Logos and No Gos; Geoff Steward; Wiley £29.99

This book offers a more conversational tone, with no less helpful explanations. Geoff Steward, a solicitor, has created an accessible, readable and comprehensive guide to IP, aimed at the legally uninitiated. It offers legal advice on protecting your intellectual property, and tips on housekeeping your portfolio - BEST OF ITS KIND

Essentials of Licensing Intellectual Property; Alexander I Poltorak, Paul J Lerner; Wiley £24.50

Although well laid out, with goals set out in each chapter, this book often digresses. The focus is on the licensing of IP and there is little of the background info that makes the other books so helpful. This, along with the strong US angle, makes it of limited use to beginners - OF MINOR INTEREST.

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